Yamaha niken


Yamaha’s cu­ri­ous new three-wheeler put to the test

‘For a ma­chine that looks so crazy and dif­fer­ent, the Niken is re­mark­ably sen­si­ble and nor­mal to ride. Whether it will end up a suc­cess­ful three-wheeled pi­o­neer, like the MP3, or a dive up a blind al­ley like Yamaha’s own fork less GTS1000 or BMW’s roofed C1 scooter re­mains to be seen.’ Here is our first im­pres­sion fol­low­ing a ride in the Aus­trian Alps

AF­TER ALL THE hype, and given its ob­vi­ous phys­i­cal dif­fer­ences, per­haps the most im­por­tant re­al­iza­tion on rid­ing the Niken is that Yamaha’s revo­lu­tion­ary three-wheeler feels so nor­mal — and some­times seems to have a dis­tinct ad­van­tage over most other bikes.

Like when I’m rid­ing on a moun­tain road in the Aus­trian Alps, head­ing back down the fa­mous Größ­glock­ner pass amid spec­tac­u­lar peaks that even on a mild spring day are still mostly cov­ered with snow. Up here you’re never more than a burst of throt­tle from a bend and the Niken is tak­ing them in im­pres­sive style. It’s steer­ing with ease and pre­ci­sion; carv­ing though with an oc­ca­sional scrape of footrest tip, feel­ing quick, con­trol­lable, and a lot of fun.

Its best moments are ar­guably the ones that might be slightly dodgy on a con­ven­tional mo­tor­cy­cle: on the sev­eral oc­ca­sions that I round a turn to find the road ahead soaked by a stream of melted snow. This could be tricky on any bike, but dis­tinctly less so on the Niken, whose ex­tra front wheel gives re­as­sur­ingly high lev­els of grip and sta­bil­ity, even when the haz­ard is in­creased by ad­verse cam­ber or a sprin­kling of gravel.

Such feel­ings of se­cu­rity would prob­a­bly seem fa­mil­iar to any­one who has rid­den a Pi­ag­gio MP3 or one of the other three-wheeled scoot­ers that have fol­lowed in the Ital­ian cre­ation’s triple tyre-tracks since its début in 2006. Yamaha joined in four years ago with the 125-cc Tric­ity, which has es­tab­lished it­self in some mar­kets with­out mak­ing a sim­i­lar im­pact.

Now the Ja­panese firm has adapted the Tric­ity’s tech­nol­ogy to bring the lean­ing three-wheeled con­cept to mo­tor­cy­clists. Yamaha say the Niken (the name means “two swords”) is de­signed for ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers, not scooter rid­ers or car driv­ers. With its front wheels set only 410 mm apart, it can’t be rid­den on a car li­cence in the way that some three-wheeled scoot­ers can in some coun­tries.

Strik­ing de­sign puts the tech­nol­ogy cen­tre-stage. Twin fork tubes, their blue fin­ish off­set­ting the dark grey paint of the body­work, run steeply down on each side, out­side the pair of 15-inch­di­am­e­ter front wheels (rather than in­side, as with the Tric­ity). The

sys­tem’s rods and levers are par­tially hid­den by a broad, ag­gres­sively shaped half-fair­ing that holds a small screen, plus twin head­lights in­cor­po­rat­ing mul­ti­ple light-emit­ting diodes (LED).

The rest of the Niken is con­trast­ingly con­ven­tional; it’s es­sen­tially an­other mem­ber of the three-cylin­der MT-09 fam­ily. The 847-cc, 12-valve en­gine is min­i­mally mod­i­fied, with no change to its max­i­mum out­put of 115 PS at 10,000 rpm. But the frame is new, com­bin­ing steel main tubes with a cast steel steer­ing head plus a cast alu­minium swing-arm pivot area. A con­ven­tional alu­minium swing-arm works the hor­i­zon­tally mounted rear shock.

The seat is rea­son­ably low at 820 mm (same as the MT-09; 30 mm down on the SP and Tracer), but it’s quite wide and the Niken felt like a sub­stan­tial bike as I climbed aboard. Ahead was the stubby screen, a broad ex­panse of grey plas­tic, and a sim­ple LCD in­stru­ment panel with big dig­i­tal speedo, and a revcounter bar across the top. Electrics are roughly to MT-09 spec, with three rid­ing modes and two-way trac­tion con­trol, plus a Tracer 900GT-style cruise con­trol, set by but­tons on the left bar.

The wide, one-piece han­dle­bar gave plenty of lever­age to help lift the Niken off its side-stand. At 263 kg with a full tank, it’s al­most 50 kg heav­ier than the Tracer 900 (though 20 kg lighter than the FJR1300), so re­quires a bit of a heave, then con­cen­tra­tion when it’s up­right be­cause there’s no MP3-style tilt lock. The rid­ing po­si­tion is slightly more re­laxed than the Tracer’s, with bars and seat lower and more rear­wards, and slightly less legroom.

You feel the weight on the move, too, but the Niken seemed well-bal­anced as I pulled away from the launch base near Kitzbühel, helped by very gen­er­ous steer­ing lock that made low-speed ma­noeu­vring easy. So, too, did the steer­ing, which im­me­di­ately felt so in­tu­itive that I was barely aware of the ex­tra wheel. The Niken didn’t feel ex­actly like a nor­mal bike but wasn’t any more dif­fi­cult to ride than some­thing like an FJR. An oc­ca­sional slight weave at walk­ing pace dis­ap­peared as the speed in­creased, with­out hav­ing caused any con­cern.

The big­gest dif­fer­ence from a nor­mal bike was the ef­fort­less way that the Niken seemed to float over road im­per­fec­tions. As one tyre hit the bump or pot­hole, the sus­pen­sion was able to re­act while the other leg wasn’t af­fected. The im­pres­sion was of a bike with far more front sus­pen­sion travel than the Yamaha’s mod­est 110 mil­lime­tres. Both legs are fully ad­justable, but worked well on stan­dard set­tings. The rear

shock couldn’t match that com­pli­ance but did a de­cent job and ben­e­fits from a re­mote preload knob plus ad­justable re­bound damp­ing.

Straight-line per­for­mance was strong, but not outstandin­g — much as you might ex­pect of an MT-09 car­ry­ing enough ex­tra weight for a typ­i­cal pil­lion. The en­gine is in­ter­nally un­changed apart from a heav­ier crank­shaft with 18 per cent more in­er­tia, in­tended to add drive­abil­ity at the expense of a touch of re­spon­sive­ness, and par­tially com­pen­sated for by short­ened gear­ing from two ex­tra teeth on the rear sprocket. The gears in the six-speed box are also strength­ened.

The in­jec­tion sys­tem is fine-tuned to suit, but couldn’t do much about the alti­tude on the Größ­glock­ner High Alpine Road, which robbed power and con­trib­uted to the Niken feel­ing breath­less at times. Even in the most ag­gres­sive rid­ing mode, it couldn’t ap­proach the wheelie-happy ex­u­ber­ance of an MT-09 (though one stunt-happy Pol­ish rider man­aged to bend the rear num­ber plate). But it ripped for­ward suf­fi­ciently hard to be en­ter­tain­ing, mak­ing a fa­mil­iar raspy sound with its stubby si­lencer and aided by a quick-shifter which, as with Yamaha’s other triples, worked ef­fi­ciently but only on up-changes.

On the straight roads that run along the bot­tom of the val­leys the Yam sat at up to 150 km/h feel­ing very ef­fort­less and re­spectably long-legged. It would be good for about 210 km/h and stayed sta­ble on a brief flat-out blast, its screen and broad fair­ing do­ing a bet­ter job than I’d ex­pected of keep­ing off the wind. It also felt com­posed through fast, sweep­ing turns, chang­ing di­rec­tion fairly ef­fort­lessly in re­sponse to a nudge of that wide han­dle­bar, track­ing with non­cha­lant pre­ci­sion and gen­er­ally feel­ing very re­laxed at speed.

Much of the day was spent on twistier roads, where the Niken par­tially lived up to Yamaha’s claims of ski-like turn-carv­ing abil­ity. It was most at home on the gen­er­ally smooth sur­faces of the Größ­glock­ner; typ­i­cally, sec­ondgear bends where it could be flicked in hard, con­fi­dent in the front tyres’ abil­ity to grip, and pow­ered round, some­times with a foot-rest’s tip touch­ing down as the bike made the most of its claimed 45 de­grees of avail­able lean.

The Niken fared both bet­ter and worse later, on nar­rower roads as we headed back down to­wards the val­ley floor. Here the sur­face was of­ten bro­ken, some­times show­ing ev­i­dence that a herd of cat­tle had re­cently passed by. The Yamaha’s sta­bil­ity on the brakes was con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing, as was its abil­ity to find grip with one front tyre or the other if the slip­pery stuff couldn’t be avoided.

I thought the brakes were up to the job, too. A cou­ple of rid­ers were more crit­i­cal and it’s true that ini­tial bite could be sharper, es­pe­cially if you use only one or two fin­gers. But there’s plenty of power avail­able from the com­bi­na­tion of 265-mm disc and four-pot caliper on each wheel, and hav­ing two front wheels with in­de­pen­dent ABS al­lows hard stop­ping even on very mixed sur­faces. A firm squeeze of the lever on grippy tar­mac could get the rear wheel lift­ing, and not only be­cause the bike’s weight is high and to­wards the front.

Some rid­ers who en­coun­tered more rain also found the 190-sec­tion rear Bridge­stone lack­ing in grip and too ready to trig­ger the trac­tion con­trol on hard ac­cel­er­a­tion. The Bat­t­lax Ad­ven­ture 41s are not the stick­i­est of tyres but I didn’t have any prob­lems with them even on dusty and damp roads, and in the dry they were well up to mak­ing use of the fairly gen­er­ous ground clear­ance.

If the Niken has a weak­ness, it’s per­haps in re­ally tight hair­pins, the ones where I was al­most at walk­ing pace just to get round. Here it tended to fall into

Yamaha have adapted the Tric­ity’s tech­nol­ogy to bring the lean­ing three­wheeled con­cept to mo­tor­cy­clists

the turn slightly at the apex and then un­der­steer on the way out. The dropping-in ef­fect could be min­i­mized by driv­ing through the bend, helped by a dab of clutch or rear brake, but that high-up, front-endy weight couldn’t be en­tirely for­got­ten.

Still, such tight bends are en­coun­tered rarely, if ever, by most rid­ers, so that draw­back is hardly a ma­jor one. It did con­firm that de­spite Yamaha’s em­pha­sis on the Niken’s sporty han­dling and turn-carv­ing abil­ity, the big three-wheeler is ar­guably more of a nat­u­ral sports-tourer. As it is, it comes with rea­son­able wind pro­tec­tion, a seat that was very com­fort­able on a 280-km day, sturdy pil­lion grab-han­dles, use­ful if dis­tant mir­rors, a 12V socket and an 18-litre tank that would be good for roughly 250 km at the very beat­able launch av­er­age of about seven litres/100 km.

A larger, ad­justable screen, pro­tec­tive hand-guards, heated grips and pan­niers would add to the Niken’s prac­ti­cal­ity and make a se­ri­ously ca­pa­ble all­rounder that would be equally happy scratch­ing, com­mut­ing or touring. Those will surely follow al­though Yamaha’s ini­tial ac­ces­sories are aimed at “sporty looks and per­for­mance” — in­clud­ing crash pro­tec­tors, min­i­mal­ist hand-guards, and an Akrapovic si­lencer.

All of which adds to the im­pres­sion that even Yamaha aren’t sure ex­actly what the Niken is, who it’s most suited to or where it might lead. But, maybe, that doesn’t mat­ter be­cause what’s more im­por­tant is that it’s quick, ver­sa­tile, en­joy­able and real­is­ti­cally priced (cost­ing more than the MT-09s and MT-10 Tourer Edi­tion in most mar­kets, but less than the MT-10 SP and FJR1300). Its ex­cep­tional front-end grip is ar­guably less of an ad­van­tage in this era of cor­ner­ing ABS, but is still a unique and valu­able at­tribute.

For a ma­chine that looks so crazy and dif­fer­ent, the Niken is re­mark­ably sen­si­ble and nor­mal to ride. Whether it will end up a suc­cess­ful three-wheeled pi­o­neer, like the MP3, or a dive up a blind al­ley like Yamaha’s own fork­less GTS1000 or BMW’s roofed C1 scooter, re­mains to be seen. But if enough rid­ers can be per­suaded to try it, this bravest and most orig­i­nal of re­cent bikes might just be the start of some­thing big.

Even on a flat-out blast, the screen and broad fair­ing do a good job

En­gine in­ter­nally un­changed apart from heav­ier crank­shaft with 18 per cent more in­er­tiaSec­ond-gear bends see it flicked in hard thanks to con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing front grip

Com­fort­able seat also gets sturdy grab­han­dles

The two front wheels are set just 410 mm apart

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